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November 07, 2022 4 min read

In this article:

Defining autophagy
What are the benefits of autophagy?
Defining ketosis
How do ketosis and autophagy differ and share mutual effects?

What is Autophagy?

The word autophagy comes from the root words "auto" and "phagia," which literally means "self-eating." Autophagy is a critical catabolic or breakdown process.

With autophagy, the body can clear out damaged cells and debris within those cells. Overall, this detox effect enables the body to function optimally.

In some ways, you can think of autophagy as your body's self-cleaning crew: It sweeps through your body and decides what to break down, what to recycle, and what to throw away.

Autophagy Is Body's Self-Eating

Cell death, called apoptosis, occurs naturally in every body; our cells are constantly turning over. In fact, the average adult naturally loses billions of cells each day. However, the process of apoptosis must be carefully regulated because an excessive amount can cause atrophy, while insufficient apoptosis can result in uncontrolled cell growth, which can lead to cancer.

Intermittent fasting is a proven way to increase neuronal autophagy. Autophagy is regulated by nutrient availability, so limiting the intake of glucose and amino acids can stimulate autophagic processes. This is precisely what intermittent fasting and ketogenic diets do.

On a cellular level, autophagy works by:

  • Recycling residual proteins
  • Removing toxic proteins from cells
  • Recycling obsolete cellular constituents
  • Eliminating damaged organelles and protein aggregates

Benefits of Autophagy

Some of the benefits of autophagy include increasing longevity, improving quality of life, and reducing disease risk. Researchers are actively studying how autophagy could be a form of therapy for cancer patients and those suffering from neurodegenerative conditions like Parkinson's and Alzheimer's disease.

Research has shown that autophagy is responsible for regulating several crucial biological functions such as:

  • Cell survival
  • Cell death
  • Cell metabolism
  • Development
  • Aging
  • Infection
  • Immunity

Benefits of Autophagy

What is ketosis?

Now that we've covered autophagy, let's move on to an explanation of ketosis. Ketone bodies are molecules produced from fatty acids by the liver.

Under normal circumstances, your body will use carbohydrates, fats, and protein (in that order) as preferred energy sources. After you eat, the digestive system breaks down carbohydrates into glucose, which then enters the bloodstream. As blood sugar levels rise, the pancreas releases insulin to help glucose enter the cells to be metabolized for energy.

When carbs aren't available, the body will break down fats (via fatty acid oxidation) and form ketone bodies to use as fuel. This metabolic state of fat burning is known as ketosis. When cells use ketones for energy, the body can reserve the remaining glucose for the brain.

Ketosis Is a Metabolic State of Fat Burning

The body may shift into ketosis when someone consumes less than 50 grams of carbohydrates a day for three consecutive days. On a cellular level, ketones are produced in the mitochondria of the liver cells. Ketosis can occur during fasting, starvation, prolonged exercise, or when following a low-carb diet. When someone intentionally pursues ketosis for diet or weight loss, it's often referred to as nutritional ketosis.

A ketogenic diet is low carb, moderate protein, and high fat. Keto diets vary, but the key is to maintain an intake of less than 50 grams of carbohydrates per day so the body will produce ketones for fuel. A strict keto diet will limit someone to 20-30 grams of carbs per day with an overall diet composition of 70% fat, 20% protein, and 10% carbohydrate.

Ketosis has proven to be an effective alternative treatment for Type 2 diabetes. Ketogenic diets have also been used for treating epilepsy. Researchers continue to study the efficacy of ketogenic diets for treating neurological diseases, metabolic syndrome, cancer, and short-term and long-term weight loss, and the results are promising.

How Do Ketosis and Autophagy Differ and Share Mutual Effects?

Many people engage in intermittent fasting for weight loss and health benefits. Ketosis and autophagy are different processes, but both are stimulated by intermittent fasting. Ketosis is a metabolic pathway for producing energy, and autophagy is the body's way of removing damaged cellular components and rejuvenating the body.

When we talk about the benefits of fasting, such as weight loss, increased energy, and enhanced mental clarity, we are actually discussing some of the mutual benefits of ketosis and autophagy.

Benefits of Fasting

After 12 hours of fasting, the body can switch over to ketosis allowing it to metabolize and burn fat. The level of ketones in the blood increases the longer you fast. After 24-48 hours of fasting, autophagy, which promotes cellular cleansing, is in full effect.  

In the US, more than two in three adults are overweight or have developed obesity. Obesity has serious health consequences and is a risk factor for type 2 diabetes, high blood pressure, joint problems, and other issues. And many of these risk factors lead to serious conditions like heart disease.

Finding ways to burn fat and decrease weight within a healthy range is crucial for our well-being. While autophagy and ketosis certainly contribute to weight loss, supplements can enhance the weight loss journey and ensure the body has essential nutrients while fasting. Clean sources of protein like marine collagen and grass fed collagen peptides provide essential amino acids without extra carbs. These supplements are ideal for keto diets and intermittent fasting.


Autophagy and ketosis are two distinct processes, but both can be triggered by intermittent fasting. Autophagy is the body’s process for cleaning up damaged cells and cell components. Ketosis is a metabolic state brought on by low carbohydrate intake and results in burning fat and producing ketones for fuel. Understanding ketosis and autophagy will help you be more in tune with your body and gain even greater health benefits when practicing intermittent fasting.

-Stephanie Hodges, MS in Nutrition in Exercise Science

Summary Points:

Autophagy allows the body to clear out damaged cells and debris within those cellular structures.

Benefits of autophagy include increased longevity, improved quality of life, and decreased risk of disease.

When carbs aren't available, the body will break down fats (via fatty acid oxidation) and form ketone bodies to use as fuel - this metabolic state of fat burning is known as ketosis.

Ketosis is a metabolic pathway for producing energy, and autophagy is the body's way of removing damaged cellular components and rejuvenating the body.

Autophagy and ketosis are two distinct processes, but both can be triggered by intermittent fasting.

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